NH Senate rejects energy project moratorium

NH Senate rejects 1-year energy project moratorium but approves studies

Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Lori Lerner and her husband purchased a second home on Newfound Lake more than a decade ago and loved the area so much that they moved in for good. Now, she worries the construction of wind turbines on the ridges above the lake might stop others from following in their footsteps.

"Who wants to invest their hard-earned money in an area that's being over taken by these monstrosities?" she said Thursday.

Already, 24 turbines in the area reach 400-500 feet above the high ground, and three other projects that Lerner cited would bring the total surrounding the lake to 120. Their presence has put the economy of the Newfound Lake region in the central part of the state in a downward spiral, she said.

Lerner is part of a vocal contingent of New Hampshire residents urging the Legislature to temporarily put a stop to new wind projects until the procedure to approve their locations, known as the siting process, can be changed. It's been criticized as outdated.

Opponents of the projects are concerned they'll deal a major blow to the state's tourism industry and real estate economy, and they want to protect local interests.

Their efforts were set back Thursday when the Senate rejected such a moratorium, instead passing a bill calling for two studies of the siting process. One would be conducted by an independent consultant and the other by lawmakers. Lawmakers would get their recommendations by 2014.

The moratorium was too broad, opponents argued. It would have affected all energy projects not required for system reliability and would in turn set back New Hampshire's renewable energy goals, and the siting process can be improved without halting it altogether, they said.

Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, who favored the moratorium, supported it partially because it would have prevented the siting committee from considering the Northern Pass transmission line project for another year, which many in his district oppose.

Some of his constituents worry that if aboveground transmission lines are built, they will hurt the region's economy in order to bring power to Connecticut and Massachusetts.

If the lines go in aboveground, said Thomas Muller of the Owl's Nest Resort and Golf Club said, they'll put him out of business.

He pointed to common ground between opponents of wind farms and opponents of the Northern Pass project.

"Our livelihoods are inextricably tied to the natural beauty of our state, and anything that disrupts that hurts our ability to make a living," Mullen said.

The siting process for all large-scale energy projects is governed the by the Site Evaluation Committee, made up of the heads of numerous state agencies. The procedures haven't seen significant change since it was created in the 1970s.

Woodburn called it a "fax machine process in high-tech ever changing world." He added the committee is overburdened and outdated, without fees for applications, a staff or a budget. Others said the committee has sent mixed messages about its ability to handle its business but pointed out that currently it's only considering the siting for one project.

The Senate may consider another bill giving greater say to municipalities over the construction of small-scale wind projects, but Lerner said that won't help the Newfound region, where large-scale industrial wind is moving forward.

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